Sunday February 13th, 2005
As I look around the house that we live in; the house we built but the bank mostly owns, I wonder if it is too much – too excessive? I think about 2/3 of the world’s people living in tents, refugee camps, slums, simple earth floor huts, very simple houses – one basic bathroom, one basic toilet, maybe running water….. I wonder whether the more you have the more you have to worry about, maintain and focus on.
I remembered hearting a sermon by Pastor Geoff Burger, who was the Pastor at St Johns in Northbridge and also WA District President for some years. He quoted a thought provoking book called, “The Progress Paradox – How life gets better while people feel worse”, by Gregg Easterbrook.
The author suggests from his considerable research that we do have so much more than our parents and grandparents but we are still generally unhappy, maybe even more unhappy more of the time than they ever were!
The author suggests that our society is changing.
“The wealthy and the typical people do not live fundamentally differently to each other. The well-to-do have the most of everything, have it in higher quality, and their worries are fewer- although this does not necessarily make them happy. But there is no longer a great dividing wall between the basic structure of daily life for the wealthy person and the typical person”. (p31)
“The wealthy and the average person live about the same way, have about the same education, drive on the same roads, visit the same hospitals and for good or ill, share the same basic cultural experiences, namely TV and movies. It is increasingly difficult for the wealthy to find anything exclusive”.
Now, he suggests that all this change is contributing to some new apprehensions…
• Choice anxiety: The overwhelming choice on offer makes us feel trapped and creates an anguish. Try buying some “soap” or “toothpaste”!
• Abundance denial: We seem to construct elaborate mental rationales that keep us believing that we are deprived – that we haven’t got it good enough yet, that we are somehow poor and this makes us always dissatisfied and unhappy.
• Collapsed anxiety: We seem to have a widespread feeling that the prosperity we are enjoying will come crashing down because of environmental damage or mysterious market forces or freak catastrophes, or terrorism, and so we can never enjoy what we have or even life itself. We just feel unhappy.
• Revolution of satisfied expectations: We feel uneasy when the much longed for thing has been purchased, when the goal has been reached, when we have actually gained the things we dreamt of.
• From material want to meaning want: There is s fundamental shift going on from wanting material satisfaction to finding the meaning of it all. Trends show that more of us are gaining a higher level of material lifestyle and yet, we sense a lack of meaning to it all.
If we are experiencing all these worries, as Easterbrook suggests, then something I often hear now makes complete sense. I so often here people say, “we need to get back to basics” or, “we need to keep it simple”, or, “it’s still the simple things in life that are the best”.
I reckon we all want to find the heart of life and the soul of us. We want meaning for the jobs we do, the dreams we have, the children and grand-children we love, but we are scared of giving up the stuff that we have been striving to gain all along. We want to find God and stay close to his son, Jesus Christ because we know his word and his love – but…..there is all of this clutter and maybe this general unhappiness?
Enter Lent. Enter Jesus – cut down to the barest bones. Alone. Alone in a hostile place. Alone in a desert and surrounded not only by dingoes and bears and snakes, but demonic forces. Matthew used a word that means demonic forces to describe what surrounds Jesus up on the mount of temptation.
In his hunger, loneliness and need, Jesus is offered it all – wealth, power, world-wide recognition, fame, supernatural power to avoid death. He is offered the world’s happiness – the very thing that we are chasing harder than ever, but finding more and more illusive!
In this moment where Jesus is cut right back to very basics of human life he finds something that can only be found when the clutter of normal life has gone and he stands completely dependent on the help and strength of his Father in heaven.
He stands against the very attractive but deceptive offer of quick money, quick fame, the fast track to the easy life by proclaiming what the very basic thing of our life is. Not only do we all need food, shelter and water, but we need every word that comes from the mouth of God.
That is getting right back to very basic stuff of what it is to be truly human and being human beings in harmony and at peace with our creator. Getting back to basics as we face all the anxieties of our current situation is depending on every word that comes to us from God.
So, resisting temptation to follow our own whims and so reject God’s will and purpose for our life is done by relying on, seeking, finishing, hearing every word that comes from God.
And what is that Word essentially? The word from God is THE WORD – Jesus Christ, the living word sent from above for the salvation of the whole world. He is the living word who speaks to us through his chosen ways – through his Word as we read it in the scriptures, hear the scriptures preached, encourage each other with words from the Scriptures, see the scriptures acted out in liturgy, music, prayer and above all, in baptism and the Lord’s supper.
Friends, Lent is a time to voluntarily strip away a trapping or two of our compressed and often crowded lifestyles. Lent is a time to get back to the basics of who we are and what the Lord is giving to us, telling us, calling us to do….. Lent is a time to hear EVERY word that comes from God – not just the nice words that affirm us and speak so well of his grace and love for us – but also those words of Scripture that are a little tough to understand, a little difficult to take, that require a bit of effort to seek.
Lent can be a time of finding out is we have lost the basics; if we have lost our bearing a bit; if we have replaced the basics of the faith- namely – a daily seeking of the Word. Lent is a time to see if someone or something has far to stronger hold on us.
Voluntarily putting ourselves in a similar position to Jesus on the hungry, thirsty and even lonely mountain can reveal much about the state of our faith. Fasting, doing extra acts of serving others, giving more of our time, money and talents are all Lenten things to do. I know of families who turn off the TV for all or part of every week of Lent. The time is spent in reading things of a spiritual nature instead. After the first few days, the great cries of anguish come to an end and they get to the Easter and TV is not really that important anymore.
I am praying that each of us might take on extra acts of service or give up something this Lent. The reward is knowing more about yourself and where you are at with the Lord. The benefit is renewed faith, renewed love for the Lord’s church and its mission. The reward is a very special Easter. Easter become a truly joyous occasion when you take that first bight of chocolate for 6 weeks!
May this “40 days” be time to rediscover your purpose and get back to those basic things that make life truly meaningful and satisfying and of great benefit to those around us.